December 16, 2010

Privacy and the Communion Fast

One of my professors, a solid priest but by no means a traditionalist, made an interesting point about the communion fast. The one-hour fast as it is in the current practice of Latin Catholics is pretty negligible; for Sunday Mass all one really has to do is make sure not to eat or drink in church or on the way.

When the fast was longer, either the three hours prescribed by Pius XII or from midnight before that, it could account for those who did not receive Holy Communion. In other words, if someone didn't receive, one might presume that he or she had not kept the fast for whatever reason. Nowadays, offered my professor, there is only one reason for someone to abstain from Holy Communion after having been previously admitted to the sacrament: the state of serious sin.

Thus, he opined, reinstating a longer communion fast could be a great pastoral kindness by providing (as it once did) a pretext for abstaining from Holy Communion for those who were actually unable to receive due to struggles with serious sin or other habitual troubles in their state of life, and thereby give them the dignity of some privacy.


Jeanne said...

I think we should go back to the longer fast. At the least, it will make people think a bit more about what they are doing before going up to communion. Interesting tidbit: I was taught in the mid 1970's that the 1 hour fast was before the Mass start time (not communion time as our pastor taught us last year). Not sure why the nuns at our Catholic school taught us that, but then again, I was also taught that the laity could "never" take communion wine for some reason; I am guessing all of these teachings were during a time of transition, which is why they are a bit 'off' for us nowadays.

Paul A. Zalonski said...

I agree. But the fundamental question is the one about catechesis on the virtue of maintaining a fast, what sin is and the need for sacramental absolution. I perceive there to be more "solid priests" talking about the need for the sacrament, but it seems to me to be moralistic than being a true encounter with Jesus Christ. I've neither heard a homily nor saw something in the bulletin the virtues of sacramental absolution nor the beauty of the eucharistic fast.

Yesterday with the children in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, I started the practice of having children go to confession every 4-5 weeks. Why? Because (a) we're a small class and 4 of the 6 students can receive the sacrament. But 3 of the 4 have only gone to Confession 1x before this moment. Going forward, we'll have the experience of going to Confession, having a good confessor and the openness to forgiveness.

In talking with the children, many of them are between 7 and 11, know about wrong-doing and know the value of forgiveness and saying "I am sorry." One even said, "I am not perfect." And yet, facing sin is not a regular medicine for conversion.

We are far too casual in modeling the reception of the sacrament of confession for others --that is seeing a priest or a habited religious in the confession line-- and far too reticent to speak about sin and forgiveness and facing our real humanity so that it can be redeemed by Christ. Why?

In a former life we never were encouraged to go to confession and never heard the sacrament of confession preached. Forget the idea of fasting before Mass.

Mark in Spokane said...


What a great post. And what a great reminder that oftentimes the rules that were held to in the past had a charitable function that too often was overlooked in the reforms following Vatican II. I very much appreciate your professor's pastoral insight on the pressure (yes pressure) that can come to take communion every Sunday. If you don't, you are essentially "outing" yourself to the congregation, or at least the people who know you and are sitting around you. That can be a difficult situation to be in.

Sara said...

All of this is true but maybe we could just give people the dignity of their privacy anyway. Are people paying attention to who does and doesn't receive Communion?

Brother Charles said...


Quite true. Perhaps self-consciousness would be a better way to frame the question.

Paul A. Zalonski said...

to a point I understand the privacy question and the idea that if were really attending to our own prayerful thanksgiving wouldn't know who's going or not to receive holy communion. privacy does not apply to the faithful's reception of sacraments.

however, the Church is not a group of private individuals: we are guided companionship in communion with God and each other, helping each to encounter Christ.

there is such a thing as public scandal and this been codified in Church Law. this is rarely enforced except when it comes to the mafia people's funerals or other notorious sinners. Note the early church fathers and saints with their teaching on the reception of Holy Communion and the reception of sacraments. Ultimately, receiving a sacrament is an ecclesial act and therefore a public act of faith. I don't privacy is sacramental principle.

the pastoral approach is not to put people "on the spot" so that their freedom is engaged. having an usher for example at the aisle encouraging people to go to communion tramples a bit of one's freedom to accept or not holy communion.

Greg said...

A long, long time ago...

In my youth. Way, way before my later conversion...

I accompanied my girlfriend to meet her parents... and we went to Mass together with the family. I loved the idea. Though I wasn't Catholic I was very interested in the faith.

So time for communion comes... and the entire family files out of the pew, except for my girlfriend.

I leaned over and asked in a whisper why she didn't participate in the rite. She explained, "Oh, you don't take communion if you have not confessed your sins."

The horror of the situation swept through my mind like a 3-D version of a James Cameron movie... the ship had hit a serious iceberg, and we would soon be taking on water.

The family returning from taking communion inched past in the tight pew, each one shooting me a look they must have learned in the catechism lesson "how to successfully operate an Inquisition bonfire".

I realized a protestation of innocence on my part would fall into the "he doth protest too much" category. The die was cast... and I would simply have to suffer through the glances in my direction for the remainder of the Mass. (There was a certain glee on the faces of the younger brothers. This was juicy high drama for them.)

I made a note to self... if you ever become a Catholic, seriously dude, learn the choreography.

So I, for one, appreciate Brother Charles' suggestion.

Suzanne said...

Or you could just educate the people that it's none of their business to even speculate why another isn't receiving and it would serve them better to concentrate on their own state and prayers at communion time.

4narnia said...

good topic, Fr. C! i, too, agree that the longer fast is better. personally, i always follow the fast from midnight when i go to morning Mass. even most of the time on saturdays when i'm down at SH for the day, i often do not have any desire to eat until after the 5:00 pm Mass. the fast really keeps my heart, soul, mind and body much more OPEN to receiving the Lord Jesus and it is during these times of following the fast, that the Holy Spirit will inspire me. i feel that the longer fast also helps us remember that we do not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.(Matthew 4:4) PAX! ~tara t~

Sara said...

I didn't ask "are people really paying attention..." to come off as a scold. Up until a few years ago, I never did anything prayerfully so I am the last person to point fingers.

It was an honest question. I'm not talking about politicians and mafia funerals. Are everyday people of good faith actually receiving Holy Communion when they know that they shouldn't? Because they think someone might be paying attention?

And also-- so what if someone is paying attention? They will know I'm a sinner? Is this news?